When it comes to our personal failures, we can’t help but play the blame game: My boss has it in for me. My mom loved my sister more. I’m not happy because I’m overweight. If I could only find a good man, my life would be perfect. Fact is, you may be the one thing holding yourself back from the successes you so desperately desire. But you also hold the power to transcend the disappointment and suffering. ESSENCE and life coach Lisa Nichols are here to help set you on that path. Get ready to break down what’s not working, break out of old habits and finally begin to make the breakthroughs needed to achieve your personal and professional dreams. It may not be a quick and easy process, but we will be right beside you on this journey. To start, you need only believe that a more blissful life is within your reach.
My Beautiful Sister,
You are a super soldier who manages to produce more on a bone-dry tank than most people do on full. But you don’t have to work on empty anymore. It’s time to refuel yourself. Too often our needs and desires take a backseat to everyone else’s, and that leaves many of us feeling unhappy and unfulfilled. Whether you are battling the burden of debt, languishing over broken promises, or fuming over chasing someone else’s dream, you can create a transformation. To begin your journey anew, I am going to charge you, my sister, to just do you for a minute. Tell yourself it’s okay to focus only on yourself for once, and I will guide you through the steps to help you get to a place of peace, love, tranquility and joy. Let’s begin.
STEP 1: ADMIT YOUR SECRET SHAME
One of our biggest obstacles is personal judgment, and that comes in the form of shame, blame, guilt, regret and anger. We project our past into our present and onto our future. It’s what I call the invisible shackles. It could be the shame of gaining 50 pounds or the blame of My man didn’t, he wouldn’t, he couldn’t. For me, it was the fact that my son’s father went to prison when my only child was 8 months old. I carried this secret shame for years and felt as if his imprisonment were a reflection of who I was. After all, I was the one who had chosen him. And I didn’t tell a soul. How do you say: “I’m a motivational speaker, transforming lives, and, oh, by the way, my son’s father is in prison”? It wasn’t a story I wanted to stand on.
Whatever the conversation going on in your head, don’t hold your future hostage to your past experiences. Secret shame weighs on us. You probably had a time in your life when you weren’t honored, you weren’t celebrated, you weren’t acknowledged to the degree that you should have been. That’s a fact. And then you made up a story about it. You decided that you weren’t pretty enough, that you weren’t smart enough, you weren’t thin enough, you weren’t light enough, your hair wasn’t straight enough. You made up a story. And the worst part is that you began to live out the story as if it were the truth.
To let go of the story you fabricated, you have to be fed up with what the shame is costing you. Instead of resting in your shame, get intimately connected with the price that you’ve paid in emptiness, sorrow, resentment, loneliness. Then make a clear, concrete decision that you have paid in full and are now ready for a new return. We know oh so well that the truth will set us free, but what we forget is that it might sting first. Be willing to feel the sting of acknowledging your shame so that you can get to the love and joy.
STEP 2: STOP TRYING TO OUTRUN YOUR PAST
Many of us think we can outrun the past by filling our present with busyness. Maybe you’re hoping that staying busy will distract you from hurts you haven’t handled. You might have experienced a massive rejection or loss in your past—maybe it was My father was no good, so all men are no good; or I was hurt by a former best friend, so I don’t trust women or My ex didn’t honor or celebrate me, so I can’t do relationships anymore. Now you’re driven to show the world I can do it on my own. You relentlessly climb the corporate ladder or maybe you launch your own enterprise. But while you may achieve what looks like success, you’re really running nonstop to block out that painful thing that you’re still carrying from your past. We never stop to realize that the rejection we experienced may have been God’s protection against an even worse pain.
Many climb the success ladder to prove I’m good enough; I know that was my motivation for a long time. But when our motivation comes from hurt, instead of running toward abundance and love, we spin our wheels trying to outrun broke and lonely. What if you climbed that same ladder with full knowledge of your innate value versus the need to prove to your family and colleagues that you’re worthy? To help transform your motivation into a truly powerful engine, you have to first make peace with your past. Dare to unpack your hurts by joining a sisterhood support group, working with a life coach, becoming active in a ministry, or seeking counseling or professional advice.
STEP 3: LEARN TO FORGIVE
To shed the invisible shackles that keep you from being your best, you also have to forgive—yourself or others. But forgiveness is not a quick fix. Instead you have to painstakingly search for the gift that came wrapped in sandpaper and acknowledge the part of your character that had to grow and expand to move past the negative thing you experienced. Gratitude for the lessons learned and compassion for our imperfections will always lead toward forgiveness. Every experience gives you a chance to unearth a new strength and a new depth of perseverance. Identify how you are a better woman because of that particular experience, then say, Thank you for-giving me the opportunity to discover my determination. Thank you for-giving me the opportunity to set healthy boundaries. When I stopped trying to protect my own image and opened my heart to have more compassion for the hurt that my son’s father was going through, then and only then was I able to take the first step to removing my invisible shackles.
STEP 4: GIVE UP KEEPING SCORE
We keep score of what happens to us, assigning emotion and meaning to our story versus relying on the facts. And every time we try to move forward, we glance over at the score box, allowing it to determine who we can become when, in fact, all it signifies is where we’ve been. And here’s the brilliance: You can give the same story five different meanings. You can give it the meaning of tragedy, the meaning of comedy, the meaning of naive optimism, the meaning of divine faith, or you can decide that it just is. It just happened. Consider, for example, when a joke is told. One person finds it hilarious, another is offended, and the next person doesn’t even get it. Now try this exercise: Look at an experience in your life that was major for you, then tell that story five different times—first as a tragedy, then as a comedy, then with optimism, then from a place of blind faith. Finally, just state the facts. Notice all the ways in which you infused the experience with meaning that could in an instant be relabeled—and rescored.
STEP 5: LET YOURSELF JUST BE
Once we begin to set down our shackles, our impulse is to try to fix what they broke. I want you to pause right here. Becoming fully aware of the hurt you’ve been carrying will sting. But that’s because it reminds you of your humanity. Most of us are striving for perfection when perfection doesn’t exist. I tell people that I’m not perfect; I just know to manage my imperfections. Understand that you can have perfect, blissful love in your heart and still have hurt and pain there as well. Give yourself permission to live in that duality, instead of focusing only on being an achiever, a producer and a provider. If we don’t sit still in awareness long enough to absorb our lessons and make peace with our past, we will simply slingshot back like a rubber band to the same hurt again and again, year after year.
STEP 6: REWRITE YOUR INTERNAL SCRIPT
It’s important to realize that the emotions that might be keeping you stuck may be fueled by unconscious beliefs you have carried for a very long time. If you keep allowing these negative beliefs to drive your behavior, you’ll get a negative result every time. The way you break through is to first recognize the effects of these beliefs on your life and then transform the underlying script. For example, I realized the shame I carried about my son’s father being in jail had affected my ability to stand onstage. It dimmed the light of my inner spirit. Even as I wrote my book, No Matter What!, I was trying to avoid that chapter about my son’s father. I was trying to write around it, over it, under it. But God convicted me and said, “How can you stand in your entire glory, say that you’re okay with you and have anything that you’re ashamed of?” It took a while for me to grasp that I had to acknowledge an underlying belief about myself, that I wasn’t worthy of all the blessings coming to me. I had made my son’s father being in jail the proof of that. We each have to excavate the internal scripts we have lived in for the last two, five or ten years and then say, It’s time to release these limiting beliefs about myself so I can step into my true brilliance.
STEP 7: TAKE IT SLOW
When we’re going through transformation, we try to fast-forward, but this is a process. It takes time to identify the frustration, hurt, regret and feelings of loneliness that may have resulted in your shutting yourself off and not expressing who you really are. Your job going forward is to stay fully conscious of the baggage you bring from the past. Don’t be discouraged by what you find. Every experience you’ve had—no matter how painful—has made you stronger. The freedom is in knowing that you don’t have to hide anything; you can love and embrace your entire journey, because when you release the baggage, my beautiful sister, you can really feel yourself dance!
For more from the October Issue of ESSENCE. Pick up a copy on stands now.